The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander

Paper Book, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York : [Jackson, Tenn.] : New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2010.

Description

"As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status - much like their grandparents before them." "In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community - and all of us - to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

Quoting Alexander: "I consider myself a prison abolitionist, in the sense that I think we will eventually end the prisons as we know them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we don’t need to remove people from the community who pose a serious threat or who cause serious harm for some period of time. But the question is do we want to create and maintain sites that are designed for the intentional infliction of needless suffering? Because that’s what prison is today. They are sites where we treat people as less than human and put them in literal cages and intentionally inflict harm and suffering on them and then expect that this will somehow improve them. It’s nonsensical, immoral, and counterproductive, and that is what I would like to see come to an end."
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Publisher's Weekly
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
Every American should read this book; non-Americans can read it to feel relief that they don’t have such a system and possibly think about tacit discrimination in their countries as no nation can be free of such systems, though clearly most will not be on such a large scale. Michelle Alexander looks at the American prison system with a focus on the War on Drugs and how it is used to control minorities, specifically young African-American men. The book is clearly written, well-organized and cites statistics, case studies and personal accounts to give both the large-scale impact and the personal costs of the mass imprisonment of drug criminals. Alexander claims in her introduction that she didn’t want to write an enormous tome describing the injustices but her book is actually quite comprehensive. She lays out the stepwise progression of the system to its current form, where it can function with no necessary overt racism, generally hidden from view and on a massive scale. Alexander writes with an impressive clarity and sticks to a straightforward, factual tone even when dealing with enormous contradictions and injustices. Her prose flows well so the book never feels dry. She’s able to summarize historical eras, complex court cases and theoretical arguments simply and clearly but includes important nuances and looks at positions on both sides. In fact, she frequently lays out the arguments for the current drug war and punitive system then dismantles them with statistics and examples, logical counterarguments and enlightening juxtapositions.

Alexander starts the book by giving a short summary of the two previous systems used to control blacks – slavery and Jim Crow, the set of laws and customs that developed after the Civil War and Reconstruction that kept minorities as a second-class citizen. Her biggest claim is that the War on Drugs and the prison system is the new Jim Crow, a highly emotional charge that is given strong support here. Whatever one thinks of that comparison, though, the author’s case-by-case depiction of the loss of any meaningful constraint on police actions and the long list of extremely harsh and unfair restrictions on not only those convicted of drug charges but those either charged but not convicted or just arrested for drug crimes is staggering. The beginnings of the current drug war are traced – a War on Drugs was actually declared before the spread of crack, long seen as the scary boogyman of drugs. Ronald Reagan is given much of the blame but Alexander is highly critical of Bill Clinton’s reforms and is doubtful of some of Obama’s actions. Being “tough on crime” became an easily coded way to appeal to the rightmost elements as well as poor whites and Republicans and Democrats would both use it – no one wanted to be seen as having sympathy for criminals. Alexander shows how government money was used to incentivize the arrest of large groups of drug criminals – almost all black or brown, she notes – and led to the militarization of police tactics. To point out some of the worst abuses – police are allowed to seize the property of drug criminals, giving them another incentive for arrests. Even those only arrested and not charged can have their property seized and a cumbersome process must be undertaken to try to get it back, leading to the idea of a piece of property having “guilt”. Laws were only reformed (and not by that much) when some especially corrupt police departments targeted white millionaires, hoping to seize a large estate if even a small amount of drugs was found and actually taking a helicopter. Out-of-proportion mandatory sentencing and punitive three-strikes laws are often discussed but Alexander gives the disparities of the crimes and sentences in detail.

Alexander covers a list of Supreme Court cases and all result in giving police and prosecutors almost unlimited discretion in who to arrest and charge. Any limits in stopping and searching people are almost never used in fact – the issue with obtaining “consent” to search, for example. Police can stop someone for pretty much any reason – looking too nervous to too calm are acceptable reasons cited. They can also use race, as long as it’s not the sole reasons. Prosecutors regular overcharge drug criminals to force plea bargains and it’s well-known that public defenders are spread too thin. In choosing a jury, prosecutors can cite almost any reasons for rejecting a potential juror – the one given in the Supreme Court case was that the guy’s hair was too long. In fact, many of the decisions state that a racial bias cannot be charged unless there is clear evidence of someone doing something solely based on race which is unlikely. Statistics were not acceptable as evidence of bias. Attempts to obtain evidence showing racial bias couldn’t be pursued as in one case where the court decided that the evidence necessary to decide the case (a list of white defendants who weren’t transferred to the harsher federal system) was the evidence being sought in a Catch-22.

Restrictions placed on felons after release make a person more likely to engage in further crimes. For example, a number of court and imprisonment costs can be billed to felons and their wages can be garnished 100% - making it not unlikely that former convicts would turn to illegal methods to make a living. Housing and unemployment issues will come as no surprise but Alexander also discusses costs associated with transportation or a lack of it and the outflow of potential service jobs from the cities to the suburbs. In several harsh regulations pushed by the Clinton administration, people can be barred from public housing if drugs are used on their premises, even if they didn’t know about it, or if people living with them use drugs outside of their residence. Despite the fact that extremely high percentages of young black men are incarcerated, there is still a stigma and shame attached. In the next section, Alexander compares the current prison system to Jim Crow though not focusing on what might be obvious. Her final chapter is not so much suggestions as critiques of some of the current ways of dealing with the problems (admonishing black men, using lawsuits as a primary way to effect change, making affirmative action the centerpiece of current civil rights pushes, promoting colorblindness as a solution) and a call for a new grassroots movement akin to the Civil Rights Movement. Alexander ends on a hopeful, fiery quote by James Baldwin but this book will make all but the most hardened feel dispirited.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This isn't an easy book to read, but it's important for Americans to read it. In it, Michelle Alexander sets out a convincing claim that our War on Drugs has resulted in shocking injustice. While the percentage of people who have used illicit drugs to some extent or another is the same across all groups of Americans, law enforcement has concentrated on African Americans to the point where they account for up to 90% of those charged. In low-income neighborhoods, being stopped and searched by police is a routine occurrence for young men and there are regular drug sweeps that pull the innocent as well as the guilty into the justice system.

The justice system itself is skewed against low-income African American defendants. Until recently, possession of crack cocaine was sentenced at 100 time the length of sentences for powder cocaine, which is seen as the drug of choice for white people. It's now sentenced at an 18-to-1 ratio. Harsh drug laws require judges to give first time offenders who were caught with a small amount of drugs, including marijuana, to custodial sentences of five years, longer than that received by those convicted of violent assault or drunk driving. Police department funding depends on drug arrests for both financing and equipment, and has led to a 2000% increase in the number of people imprisoned as compared to the 1970s.

And the problem isn't solved when people leave prison. Felons are ineligible for public housing. They can't vote or serve on juries. It's almost impossible for them to find a job. We've created an underclass barred from participating in society, from supporting their families, from being a useful member of society. And that underclass is overwhelmingly composed of African American men.

This is a largely invisible problem, hidden from all but the family members of the incarcerated. The focus is on the War on Drugs, which isn't racist in and of itself, it's just that it's more efficient to scoop up people from high density urban ghettos. And if middle-class white Americans were subject to the same tactics, there would be an outcry. Alexander makes a solid case, but also presents the beginnings of a solution. While The New Jim Crow is a difficult book to read, it does start a conversation that we need to have.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
When the United States now has a prison population of nearly the same size and proportion as Stalinist Russia during the Great Purges, you know there's something deeply wrong with this country. (We have 760 per 100,000, the Soviets had ~800.) 1.6 million people out of 300 million are in prison today in America (The Gulag held 1.7 million in 1953). That's more than all of Hawaii. This population includes almost 100,000 minors, and even an increasing proportion of the elderly.

How did this happen? Racial prejudice through law is not new, of course. After the end of slavery, southern Democrats enforced racist laws, effectively cutting off the newly freed populations from voting rights, jury duty, and so forth. This was the first Jim Crow.

There was a brief refuge with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations of the 1960s, and the civil rights movement. The Voting Rights Act killed the first Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Bill and desegregation did too. However, after the assassinations of the late 1960s, when JFK and RFK and the Reverend King and Malcolm X all fell, bloodied martyrs, war riots and a fear of the loss of public order choked the American public.

In 1968, Richard Nixon promised them law and order, to be 'tough on crime'. He used covertly racist advertising, setting the 'inner city' and the 'peacenik' against the 'silent majority'. He began the War on Drugs. Then came Ronald Reagan, who described welfare fraud, and whipped up racist panic about crack babies, crack heads, gangbangers. His stories were lies. Drug usage was on the decline among black communities when he made his first self-righteous crusades in 1982. But here, the laws were biased, punishing crack over powder cocaine. Crack was cheap, favored by blacks, and cocaine, used by whites, was not as heavily prosecuted. The majority of drug users are white (being the majority of the population) but the majority of those imprisoned are black.

What is the state of drugs today? Drug abuse/dependence among white and black youth is roughly equal, ~8% as of 2013. However, blacks are ten times more likely to be apprehended by whites It has remained at this point since the beginning of the drug war, and even after the exponential increase in police spending in the drug war.

How is the new Jim Crow implemented beyond drugs? First, through searches and seizures, and the dismantling of the 4th amendment. Second, through the pressures of the judicial system. Third, through the extremely harsh treatment which these prisoners now receive.

The legal protections of the fourth amendment have been largely curtailed in the drug war. Property can be confiscated and homes invaded on unproven allegations. 'Material self-interest' allows law enforcement to target anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

The judicial system has been complicit in this new aggressive policy. Mandatory minimum sentencing has led to disproportionately long sentences for even minor counts of personal possession. Heavy mandatory penalties against non-violent offenders - e.g., fifty years prison for minor amounts of personal possession, are now upheld by the Supreme Court. So there goes the Eighth amendment as well.

Government privatization of the prison system, with market incentives gone perversely wrong. When prisons are privatized, what is their means of making a profit? Tacit support of 'tough-on-crime' laws, increasing prisoner intake, earning a profit by cutting out amenities, keeping their 'guests' there as long as possible. Imagine a hotel with mandatory attendance, how else would they make money?

Twenty years ago, former prisoners could at least earn a living with manufacturing jobs. They'd stay out of the customers' eyes. Now, these jobs have vanished. What's left are those jobs at the very bottom, or nothing at all.

This is the Gulag Archipelago of our age. It is a hidden state within a state, where we dump our poor, our tired, our huddled masses. This book is essential reading, not just for the activist or the politician, or the social worker, not even only for those in poverty who know this already, but the average American voter. It is time to stand up against the George Wallaces and Jan Brewers and Joe Arpaios of the world. Time for the Freedom Riders of history to march again against bigotry, and this time to fight for a more lasting place in the sun.
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
59. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Audio) by Michelle Alexander, read by Karen Chilton (2010, 13 hrs 16 mins, 336 pages in Paperback, Listened October 6-16)

I thought this would be a disturbing look a racism, but nothing new. But there were some very positive reviews in CR, so I was happy to give it a try when it showed up in my library's audio collection.

It's a much more important book than I suspected. It's a major work, and has led me to shift the context of how I view the drug war and modern hidden racism. I had no idea the stuff, clearly presented here, was going on. And I'm kind of stunned that this is such a poorly covered topic. The book is wow. It's a book which you simply can't understand how important it is until you have actually read it and Michelle Alexander has a chance to fully lay this all out.

Among the topics here are how the drug war focuses almost entirely on poor black neighborhoods, where up to 80% of young black males in some major cities have, at least, a police record, if not an arrest and conviction. Of how the drug war essentially ignores drug issues in white middle class suburbs, where young kids can stumble through their own experiences, while the same types of things in poor black neighborhoods lead to convictions and long jail sentences. Of the cost of a conviction, which leads to a life of limited employment opportunities, legal discrimination (because who likes a felon?) and therefore to more crime and more drug enforcement. And finally how that legal discrimination against criminals, who are disproportionately black or Latino, has become the current and painfully effective form of racism.

I had no idea that when a politician said he or she wanted to be tough on crime, this was understood by many to be a coded racism. Started under Reagan, the the two president most responsible for ramping up the drug war were Clinton and Obama...

Some of the worst parts are of the failures in police policy. How arrests are actually causing crime. And how law enforcement decisions set from higher up at the federal level set in motions policies such that police on the ground don't need to be consciously racist to, in effect, be racist. There is no racist terminology anywhere.

And then there is the US Supreme court which has undermined every legal option to fight against this kind of racism. One case was lost where prosecution records were requested to investigate possible racist policy. If I understood this correctly, the records (why are they not public anyway) were withheld because the requester had no data to support their suspicions of racism. Go figure the logic. Any change in policy will have to come outside the legal system...

It's strange how obvious this all seems after reading it. I have to wonder why I didn't fully appreciate this before.

I listened on audio, read very nicely by Karen Chilton.
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LibraryThing member NCFChampaign
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

Stunning. Shocking. Disturbing. The author very convincingly lays out a disturbing picture of our incarceration system. Some of the questions she asks are:
Why has the prison population increased four-fold between 1960 and 1990?
Why is our current incarceration rate 6-9 times that of other developed countries
Why do three out of four young African-American men end up in jail or prison at some point in their lives?
Why was the “War on Drugs” ramped up at a time when drug-related crime was actually decreasing?
Why has the “War on Drugs” been primarily waged in poor communities of color, when studies have shown that all races use and sell drugs at similar rates?
Why is sentencing for crack cocaine so disproportionate with sentencing for powder cocaine?
Why are local police departments given extra financial incentives to pursue drug crimes?
Why were local police departments given military equipment so that they could pursue drug crimes with military policing rather than community policing, even for the most minor of drug crimes?
When drug crime prisoners complete their sentences, they come out as second class citizens, no longer having the right to vote, serve on juries, and being able to be legally discriminated against in employment, housing, educations, benefits, virtually guaranteeing that their only income option would be drugs, if they come from the ghetto and return to the ghetto. Why, then are we shocked by recidivism?
Since the drug problem in the ghettos of inner cities did not begin until the factories closed and jobs left, why wasn’t the drug problem attacked by bringing jobs back to these places?
Why are non-violent drug issues/addictions, treated as crimes rather than health issues?

The questions go on and Michelle Alexander, an attorney, demonstrates through a look at history, court cases, including Supreme Court decisions, crime statistics, etc. that the targeting of communities of color is no accident but part of an intentional plan to create a new caste system aimed at creating, without using racialized language, a system of new “Jim Crow”-like restrictions, making poor communities of color second class and restricted to a “parallel” universe that allows very few options in life.
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LibraryThing member mmaestiho
Absolutely terrifying, totally convincing, and extraordinarily well written. I'm really glad to have borrowed this from a friends because it's amazing how blind it is possible to be when you live in a bubble of your own privilege. I particularly like how she doesn't just focus on the issue but the history and process behind creating this system and the ways to go about toppling. Preemptively cutting short people's arguments about hoping people will change was powerful and effective.… (more)
LibraryThing member rivkat
I feel really bad about this, but unless this is the only book you’re going to read about race in America and you haven’t been following the news, there’s not a lot here that will make you stop in your tracks. It would have made a fantastic Atlantic article, but at book length ends up repetitive. Criminalizing poverty and blackness was a recuperative tactic for whites pretty much as soon as the Civil War ended, and it kicked into higher gear as explicit discrimination became more and more intolerable. Felons now can be subjected to lots of explicit discrimination, including exclusion from voting, and courts don’t allow challenges to racial targeting at pretty much any stage of the criminal justice system. Moreover, the fact that a few blacks will predictably make it through the gauntlet—look, we have a black president!—makes it easier for whites, and even many nonwhites, to believe that success or failure is a matter of individual choice and behavior, even though only some groups and neighborhoods are targeted for law enforcement scrutiny. There’s a conversation to be had here about this book compared with Isenberg’s White Trash, since one way poor whites get “paid” to vote against their own economic interests is through racial privilege; the more that fails, the less stable the cross-class alliance of white people is, and that’s pretty relevant to current politics.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaulsu
It took me three years to finish this book--but that really doesn't say much in itself.

In the beginning, I found it troublesome to read because of my ignorance. At the end, I found it repetitive. Alright! I get it! But even the ending had factual matter that I wasn't aware of.

This IS a book that all of us should read. ALL, as in everyone. No demographic gets a free pass, since, as Alexander so hammers into our heads, there is NO ethnic group, social class, or economic stratum that is untouched by this fact of American society.… (more)
LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
This is one of the most important books I have ever read. Basically Michelle Alexander shows how The War on Drugs and mass incarceration is the new racial caste. She explains how slavery began, how slavery ended, the new racist laws during reconstruction, the fall of the laws, the rise of Jim Crow, the fall of Jim Crow and then finally the rise of using the prison system to continue to target black communities and treat them like 2nd class citizens. It might sound crazy at first, Michelle couldn’t believe it at first either, but she spells it out point by point. My mind was blown. The thing is you probably already know and heard a lot of the statistics used, but seeing them all together and how they add up is shocking. The New Jim Crow is informative of the history that cause the mass incarceration of black, the policies made under both political parties that targeted blacks by instead using the world criminals to avoid blatant racism in the public. It explains how the courts are able to continue this caste, by protecting itself with rulings that prevent people to even bring up it is racially bias. The book also explains what it truly means to be a felon, how it is legal for our country to discriminate against felons, and what it is doing to the black communities.

I highly recommend reading The New Jim Crow especially with the current events going on. This needs to be talked about and brought to light. It makes me upset that our country can ignore this problem.
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LibraryThing member jessicadelellis
I read this book for my PHIL 122 class (Social Justice).

This was an incredibly insightful book, however, I did have some issues with it. She presented many problems but fell short on how to exactly fix them, start a movement, etc. The last chapter didn't do a great job at expanding on how to move forward. But she does a great job at explaining how complicated the problem is. So all in all, a worthwhile read.… (more)
LibraryThing member dono421846
Overwhelmingly depressing, but convincing in its argument that after the formal dismantling of Jim Crow in 1964, a new technique to maintain a racial undercaste: the War on Drugs. Although antidrug laws are race neutral, their enforcement are not. While whites and blacks use and sell drugs at approximately the same rates, enforcement efforts target blacks to the end that mind-popping levels of incarceration never before seen on the planet have been achieved, with 80% or more of prisoners coming from minority groups.

Even when released these felons are denied any benefit that might allow them to productive reintegrate into society: they are permanently denied food stamps, public housing, as well as the right to vote. They cannot find employment. The cumulative effects on the individual and the group is devastation on a massive scale. But because this is tauted as colorblind and individual responsibility, these massive incarceration works escape censure for their racist foundations and effects.

It is an appalling situation. The author is light on how the problem might be solved, but one hopes that, perhaps eventually, enough social will can be mustered to effect the fundamental changes that will be required to truly correct this injustice.
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LibraryThing member thealtereggo
This was a very enlightening book. The reason I didn't give this book 5 starts was because the writing itself was often rather dense, and sometimes it was a bit repetitive. I think the repetitiveness was perhaps necessary to really drive home the points the author was trying to make as they can be difficult concepts to assimilate. I think every American should read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member ElizabethRTowns
Definitive text on the lives of African American males and the institutionalization of segregation and racism from the Old South in America. Alexander painstakingly routes the path from Cornfields to Cell blocks for the black male population in America and the disenfranchisement of a sector of society that was never intended to have the legal vote by the old boy network to start. Do you want to know the plan or path for minorities in this great democracy? Here's a blueprint. Get it, read it, mark it up. It's embedded in the cornerstones of this society.… (more)
LibraryThing member annbury
A terrific book; the author answers every question that a person might have about the criminalization of young black men through the war on drugs. Reagan was a lowlife conservative, but he started the war and then the country ran into the crack epidemic, which caused all kinds of mayhem in the black community. She has probably won her share of affirmative action suits but she thinks that it contributes to the problem. Her take on Obama is wonderful. This is a book that definitely changed my mind.… (more)
LibraryThing member fulner
This audio book was longer than it needed to be. I almost quit after the first 2 disc because she wasn't saying anything interesting/new/different.

However eventually she did get to the point about how much racism there is even in folks that don't think they are racists, including blacks themselves. One example being a video game where folks needed to quickly identify thugs with guns vs. bystanders with other items, and it was like 9/10 times that a black person was the one shot incorrectly and 3/10 white folks which should have been shot where not.

It is very evident that Micheele Alexander is a black Democrat writing for black Democrats. As such I'm not sure how to judge her end use. If what she missed was based on her target audience, or actually failures of her writing.

She did make the correlation between poverty and incarceration, beyond race. She did note that in the "age of colorblindness" the only way the overtly racists can act is via the state. That individual racism is not tolerated. She did not make the conclusion that a free market would solve these problems, heck she didn't even go as far as to ask for a legalization of drugs.

All in all I think Alexander has a ways to go with her personal development of political philosophy. To an extent it challenged some of my preconceived notions, but not enough to truly make a difference. It’s still politicians looking for a way to exert power.
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LibraryThing member nnschiller
The is a huge, towering accomplishment. well reason, supported by meticulous evidence, this is A VERY IMPORTANT BOOK.
LibraryThing member nancyjune
This book has opened my eyes to problems I was vaguely aware of (the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison, harsher sentences for "black" drugs; i.e., crack, vs. drugs commonly used by whites), but were caused by a system I did not understand. Alexander explains clearly how the new racial caste system developed, how it works, and why it works. I wish everyone would read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member spoko
What a spectacular book. I was a bit skeptical of the title going in--it's a bit Godwin-esque to compare all racial injustices to slavery and/or Jim Crow. But she addresses that head-on, with a bit of skepticism on her own part. Having recently read The Warmth of Other Suns and seen some of the ways that Jim Crow actually played out in real life, though, I could certainly see the pervasive parallels that Alexander draws here.

America's prison system is incredibly racist in its implementation, that I knew. But what this book illuminates so well are the facts that (a) the system was transformed along racial lines in a discrete, systematic way and (2) the worst iniquities of our criminal justice system might actually be the lives we force felons into after prison. The concept of "civil death" underlies so many of our laws that pertain to convicted people, and it's all out of proportion to the petty crimes that most of them committed. Beyond which, it has broader implications for the black community that do, indeed, recall Jim Crow.

Finally, while the final chapter seemed a bit rushed, I did accept a lot of her prescription for where to go from here. It might seem contradictory to say that, on one hand, we can't pretend that the current system is equally harsh to all races, and on the other, that we have to address this in a manner that helps both racial minorities and whites. Her appeal to King's sense that it's time to move beyond civil rights and toward human rights is, I think, dead on.
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LibraryThing member bookwoman247
In this book, Alexander examines the connections between the War on Drugs, racial caste, and disenfranchisement. She lays it all out with stunning clarity.

This is one of the most important books I've ever read. In my opinion, it should be required reading for all Americans.
LibraryThing member barlow304
Professor Alexander’s sweeping denunciation and expose of the evils of mass incarceration bring nothing to mind so much as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Like Jean Valjean, a minority kid busted on a minor drug charge ends up as a felon in prison, then an outcast from our society. Laws and policies deprive him of the right to vote, of public assistance, and even of housing. Mass incarceration is leading to a new racial caste system.

But the author goes farther, showing how the misguided War of Drugs has unleashed a militarized police force against poor people of color. At the same time, drug crimes committed by suburban white people largely go unpunished. When detected, white drug offenders are much more likely to be sentenced in state court, where the penalties are much less severe than in the federal system. Alexander argues that the war of drugs would stop tomorrow if it were pursued in white suburbia as diligently as it is in poor communities of color.
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LibraryThing member nmele
A clear exposition of how structural racism works in contemporary America and an expose of the cynical creation of a drug crisis and the management of the War on Drugs. Everyone should read this book.
LibraryThing member crazybatcow
In a way it is too bad the author aligned the book so closely to Jim Crow and brought the argument forward only in terms of racism. The argument really should have less to do with racism than with poverty and a lack of hope.

Yes, more blacks are in jail than other races, especially considering the racial makeup in America. Yes, the prison and policing systems are money making engines. Yes, the war on drugs is a lost cause. And, yes, probably, it was all sculpted to be the way it is.

But that doesn't change the fact that it is the abject poverty and lack of hope or opportunities that is the source of the problem. Born poor and inner city, raised on the streets, attending sub-standard schools, not having any realistic hope of ever pulling yourself or your family out of it... that is the problem. If people had hope and opportunity, they would not turn to drugs or crime, and they would not get a criminal record which further condemns them to a life of poverty.

Changing post-prison reception or perception is not the solution. Crushing the process that impoverishes entire segments of the popluation is the solution. End the abject poverty, show some light at the end of the tunnel, and millions of boys turning to men will not be committing crimes simply to survive. We have to catch them before they get on the road to prison...
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LibraryThing member willszal
The United States is as racist as it has ever been, and we are blind to it.

Filled with stunning statistics, this book is one of the most important I've read lately.

Did you know that the War on Drugs is actually a lightly-veiled update on the age-old institutions of slavery and Jim Crow? Did you know that more blacks could vote, and more blacks were in congress, in the time following the Civil War than they can today? Did you know that the United States imprisons more people per-capita than any other country in the world, including Iran, Syria, China, and Russia? Did you know that "felons" aren't allowed to vote, even though that represents one quarter of black males?

And if the blatant racism of this system isn't compelling enough for you, then consider that there is nothing about the laws themselves that are racist, and they can actually be used to oppress any demographic. For example, Trump could use the supposed "criminal justice system" to wage a war on activists, and it would be entirely legal.

The one place where this book falls shorts: in questioning the foundation of criminal justice. What if punishment doesn't improve people? What if jails don't help society? Followed to the logical conclusion, that is where our author's rhetoric would end up, but she isn't that dogged.
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LibraryThing member larryerick
I barely know where to begin in reviewing this book. I want to talk for hours about it. I want to attend a college class about it. Hell, I want to teach a college class about it. I am totally impressed with this author. It is excellent research on a complex subject. It is highly professional in its presentation, unusually thorough in its analysis, and stirring in its advocacy. I would vote for her if she ran for president or join any army she chose to lead. I do wonder who she thought her target was for this book. Surely, it was not today's American conservatives. I assume they count the whole book as lies and misrepresentations out of hand. Because? Because that's just what they do with minority issues. The target may be just African Americans, but the problems she points out and the potential avenues she sees out of them cannot be managed only by them or for them. Perhaps, her biggest target is white liberals, for she has blame for them and parts to play in providing solutions, but, then again, she has blame for EVERYONE and parts to play for everyone, even for President Obama, America's first black president. We live in a society where hours can be spent on such tripe as the Paris Hilton's of the world, and where political headlines are not that major laws have been passed but that just one half of our Congress has passed a law which the other half has no intention of passing. The author recognizes all of this and much much more, and still she has taken the time to layout so very clearly how this "new Jim Crow" is everybody's problem and asks us to, first, understand it, second, accept it, and, finally, to start doing something about it. I worry that part of the reason this resonated so powerfully for me is that I have read in depth about the progression of the African American experience and her references throughout the book were so easy for me to follow and accept. Even if I get anyone reading this review to read the book, which I highly recommend, I cannot be confident it will be absorbed for its true merits by the average reader. I sincerely hope for the best.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Though I'm not convinced of the wisdom of characterizing the gross inequities in the criminal justice system as a "new Jim Crow," Alexander's thoughtful, well-researched book is quite convincing in revealing the deeply embedded racial biases that exist in police methods and tactics and the penal system. It is clear that the system is in need of radical reform to address these disparities and Alexander offers sound ideas on how to begin. An exceptionally well-written, detailed analysis of a profoundly disturbing social ill.… (more)

Language

Original publication date

2010-01-05

Physical description

xi, 290 p.; 24 cm

ISBN

9781595581037

Local notes

politics
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